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Mainstream, VOL LV No 37 New Delhi September 2, 2017

Haryana Mayhem, Patna Rally, ‘Long March’

Saturday 2 September 2017, by SC


The long arm of the law has finally caught up with him. After being convicted on August 25, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the self-styled godman and chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda, was sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment—10 years each for the rape of two of his disciples—by the CBI court judge in Rohtak’s Sunaria jail three days later (on August 28).

While pronouncing the sentence the judge ruled that the Dera chief did not deserve “sympathy of the court” since his followers had placed him “on the pedestal of god” while revering him but “he did not even spare his own pious disciples and had acted like a wild beast”. He further added that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s actions caused “irreparable damage... to the heritage of this ancient land”.

Thankfully, nothing untoward happened on that day when the sentence was pronounced. That is because perhaps the Haryana authorities were careful not to let things get out of hand following the events of August 25, the day of his conviction. There was real anarchy in Panchkula on that day and mob violence reached menacing proportions leading to as many as 38 deaths, according to latest figures, while many more were injured. As The Hindu editorially pointed out on August 27,

True, mob violence is difficult to control without resort to extreme force, but in this case the government seemed to rely entirely on the good sense of the sect‘s followers. It failed to foresee violence on such a large scale, and no viable security plan was in place after several hours of lawlessness. Despite intelligence inputs about the Dera followers storing fuel, and knives and stones, the government machinery was woefully slow to react... Punjab saw better coordination between the Army and the police, with action being taken at least ten days in advance. Of course, the supporters had gathered in greater numbers in Panchkula and Sirsa, the headquarters of the sect, in Haryana; even so, nothing remotely credible can explain the inadequateness of Haryana’s response to Friday’s mayhem.

Actually Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh enjoyed the patronage of the major political parties in the region at various times—the Akalis, Congress and BJP. The Dera chief had switched his loyalties in 2014 to back the BJP and thus the BJP Government in Haryana went out of its way to lend support to him in different ways (from the PM to the State CM the attitude of the BJP leaders was the same regardless of whatever Narendra Modi may say now). So the political class, notably the ruling party at the Centre and the State, cannot escape responsibility for whatever happened in Haryana after the conviction of the Dera chief. Hence, the demand that the State CM should step down for his inability to maintain peace and order is fully justified.

Meanwhile, the Opposition parties’ rally at Patna on August 27, called by the RJD in an effort to forge an Opposition alliance against the ruling BJP, was by all accounts a success, to say the least. It was attended by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav, rebel JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, CPI leader D. Raja and brought together 18 Opposition parties. No doubt these parties would have to do much more than just holding such rallies. Yet the significance of the August 27 rally should not be minimised as the public disillusionment with the Modi Government is gradually mounting.

At the same time, something else is happening. Left-wing students and youth belonging to the AISF and AIYF have been touring nooks and corners of the country in what is described as a “long march” to “save India, change India” and the public response to it is indeed striking. One was witness to this at a public meeting as late as 11 pm in Kolkata wherein prominent JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar regaled the large audience by tearing into the Modi regime’s propaganda stunts.

A clear sign of the changing times. This is bound to become more transparent in the coming days.

August 30 S.C.

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